From industrial goggles to sunglasses for sports, Yamamoto Kogaku is a world leader in the manufacture of high-quality protective eyewear. Miho Yanagisawa zeroes in on the spirit of monodzukuri at the company.
Naoyuki Yamamoto talks amidst some of the wide range of goggles and glasses produced by his company. On the table are samples of the pioneering Swans glasses for skiers (left) and runners (center and right).
Credit: TADASHI AIZAWA
Located in Higashi-Osaka city, Yamamoto Kogaku Co. was established in 1911 as a processor of optical lenses, with anti-dust glasses and goggles for industrial use as its flagship products. When the ski boom started in Japan during the period of high economic growth, Yamamoto Kogaku utilized its know-how in anti-dust glasses to develop the world’s first glasses that did not fog up by applying anti-fog coating to plastic lenses.
Swans, the anti-fog ski goggles that were launched in 1971, won high acclaim among professional athletes. The following year at the Sapporo Olympics, the first winter Olympic Games in Asia, the Japanese athletes wearing Swans goggles monopolized the winners podium in ski jumping. Many athletes worldwide adopted Swans goggles, at a single bound thrusting the company into the position of worldwide industry leader. Swans continue to undergo improvements and were used by many athletes at the Vancouver Winter Olympics this year.
Naoyuki Yamamoto, the company’s senior managing director, comments, “When we developed the ski goggles, key employees in technical development, planning, design, sales and marketing ventured out onto the ski slopes to test the product by wearing it themselves. At the same time, we listened to top athletes who expressed their unquantifiable actual experience, saying things like, ‘There’s something not quite right,’ or ‘It’s a little difficult to see,’ or ‘If only they caught a little less wind.’ The drive of the employees compensated for their small numbers compared to major corporations.”
Today, Swans has grown into a brand that graces a variety of settings for sports including baseball, golf, swimming and track-and-field.
The runners glasses specially designed for Athens Olympics marathon gold medal winner Mizuki Noguchi (main photo). In producing the glasses, Yamamoto Kogaku used its proprietary polarized lens technology, which guarantees users clarity of vision even under backlit or glare conditions (inset photo).
Credit: COURTESY OF YAMAMOTO KOGAKU, TADASHI AIZAWA
It is customization in response to the needs of top athletes that underpins the development that creates a succession of the latest in highquality products.
Yamamoto comments, “Mizuki Noguchi, who won the marathon gold at the Athens Olympics, was looking for a pair of anti-fog sunglasses with a good fit that also blocked the wind. Through dialog with her, we created sunglasses with twin lenses molded in a single piece, still a rarity worldwide, and by inverting the lenses and the temples, we reduced vibrations while running. Ryo Ishikawa, who became the youngest ever top prizewinner in professional golf in Japan in 2009, has an incredibly fast swing, and after trying several prototypes, we developed a pair of sunglasses with a sense of stability that can cope with a driver shot without being uncomfortable or tiring over the eighteen holes.
“With a range of opinions from the field, we search for areas where we can leverage our products while maintaining awareness of our own strengths and of the places where we can make significant contributions.”
Being a top brand favored by top athletes is one reason the general consumer is attracted to the brand, but both functions and specifications differ between the pro and the general consumer.
Yamamoto explains, “To lower resistance in the water, swimming goggles for top athletes have no cushion, but since this would be too painful for the average user, we offer the same design as far as possible but with cushion. In the case of sunglasses for marathon runners, there are occasions when the average runner spends three to four times longer in the race than the top athletes, so we place more importance on blocking ultraviolet rays than blocking wind.”
“In the past, I think many people thought that wearing sunglasses simply made the field of vision darker, but now there are some sunglasses that make everything look clearer when you wear them. There are also research results to show that sunglasses prevent eye disease by blocking ultraviolet rays. I believe that in the future, manufacturers must take on the responsibility of raising awareness and broadening the benefits of sunglasses. It would be good if sunglasses became more of a crucial item for daily life.”
|Company name:||Yamamoto Kogaku Co., Ltd.
|Head office address:||25-8, Chodo-3 Higashi-Osaka City, Osaka, 577-0056
|Business:||Production and sales of sporting goods, eyewear, sunglasses, optical devices, motorcycle helmets and occupational safety and healthcare products.